Welcome to “Good Morning, Illini Nation,” your daily dose of college basketball news from Illini beat writer and AP Top 25 voter Scott Richey. He’ll offer up insights every morning until practice tips off.
Former Illinois center Samba Kane landing at Indian Hills Community College triggered the idea of an update on the other former Illini still in college basketball (or could be). Here’s that update:
Jalen Coleman-Lands, DePaul
Coleman-Lands broke his left hand during the Blue Demons’ Dec. 14, 2018, game against Illinois-Chicago and missed the final 27 games of the season. Before his injury, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard was averaging 9.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists and shooting 25 percent from three-point range. Through one final season at Illinois and one-plus at DePaul, Coleman-Lands has yet been able to replicate his freshman season with the Illini, where he averaged 10.3 points and shot 38.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Williams entered the transfer portal this summer after two seasons at George Washington, but the 6-7, 215-pound wing didn’t find a new basketball home. Jon Rothstein, of CBS Sports, reported late last month that Williams will be eligible as a graduate transfer in December. The Simeon grad averaged 13.7 points and 4.7 rebounds last season for the Colonials, but coach Maurice Joseph was fired after the 9-24 season. Wherever Williams lands, he’ll be playing for, technically, his fifth coach with John Groce (almost two full seasons), Jamall Walker (three games), Brad Underwood (for about a month) and Joseph the first four.
A foot injury ultimately cut Smith’s first season at Missouri short. The 6-4, 220-pound guard missed the final seven games and 13 of the last 15 before having surgery in early March. He put up 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the Tigers while shooting 45 percent from three-point range. Smith faced seriously high expectations in his lone season at Illinois — Underwood compared him to Jason Kidd before he’d played a game — and the 2017 Illinois Mr. Basketball winner struggled to live up to them. Smith played in 19 games as a true freshman for the Illini before opting to join former Illinois signees Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett at Missouri.
Eboigbodin had a front-row seat for Northeastern’s run to the NCAA tournament last season while sitting out following his transfer. The 6-9, 225-pound forward should factor into long-time coach Bill Coen’s frontcourt plans, but he’ll have to compete with two other returning big men, including last year’s top post reserve Tomas Murphy, and a third freshman. Eboigbodin played in 30 games as a true freshman at Illinois and averaged 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Vesel opted to return home to Slovenia after leaving Illinois following the 2017-18 season. The 6-10, 215-pound forward from the Slovenian capital Ljubljana played for LTH Castings in kofja Loka, Slovenia, in the 2018-19 season and will return to the Slovenian Second Basketball League team this coming season after averaging 11.2 points and 5.7 rebounds and shooting 40 percent from three-point range. His Illinois career was basically a non-starter after playing minimal minutes in 16 games.
The only other early departure from last year’s team other than Kane, Higgs will play this coming season at Chipola College — a junior college in Marianna, Fla. Higgs missed the entire 2018-19 season at Illinois with a lingering foot injury amidst other medical concerns.